It was Barack Obama’s night, but it was also a very good one for CNN.
CNN topped all networks with viewers for its coverage of Obama’s historic night, when he became the first African-American to be elected U.S. president.
From 8 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. (ET), a period that encompassed the Democrat’s victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park, CNN averaged 13.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data, gauged on a live + same-day basis. That put the cable news service ahead of ABC with 12.5 million and NBC with 11.9 million watchers on average during that time period, Nielsen estimated
During primetime, CNN’s election coverage averaged 12.3 million viewers, the best in its 28-year history and second only to ABC’s 13.1 million and ahead of NBC's 12 million. The cable service also delivered its best performance against several key demo groups.
Over the 4.5-hour coverage window that included the Obama address, Fox News Channel was fourth with 8.1 million, compared to 7.5 million for CBS. MSNBC was next with 6.4 million, followed by Fox Broadcast’s 4.7 million and just over 4 million for Spanish-language network leader Univision.
Among the other networks that provided coverage during that period Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo tallied 847,000; African-American-targeted BET and TV One counted 547,000 and 110,000, respectively; CNBC had 415,000; BBC America 231,000; and WGN America 163,000, according to the Nielsen estimates.
Reflective of the strong voter turnout, total viewership over the 4.5-hour span averaged 70.6 million.
Measured during the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. primetime period, those networks combined to average 71.5 million watchers. That compared with just over 55 million for the four broadcast and three cable news networks in that three-hour window on election night in 2004 (although Fox Broadcast was on from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.).
Additionally on Nov. 2, 2004, another 4.1 million viewers tuned in the George Bush-John Kerry contest on Spanish-language television. According to Nielsen Hispanic People Meter Sample data that night, Univision averaged 2.76 million from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Telemundo 745,000 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.; and Telefutura 610,000 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
During the 2000 election night debacle between Bush and Al Gore, the aforementioned seven broadcast and cable news channels averaged 61.6 million viewers during primetime, according to Nielsen.
In addition to ringing up its best primetime with total viewers, CNN’s coverage of Obama’s landslide victory over Republican nominee John McCain Tuesday night yielded the service’s No. 1 night with key demos: notching 5.8 million adults 25 to 54, 6.51 million adults 18 to 49 and 3.37 million persons 18 to 34. Measured against election night 2004, CNN’s primetime viewer average jumped 99% from 6.19 million watchers, while its adult 25-to-54 base more than doubled, increasing 102%.
Marking a 12% gain in primetime from 8.05 million on election night 2004, Fox News Channel averaged 9.04 million viewers in primetime, its second-best showing ever behind its Oct. 2 coverage of the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, which pulled in some 9.16 million watchers.
On the demo front, FNC’s election coverage last night wasits top score with the so-called news demo, drawing 3.93 million of those watchers, 4% more than its 3.79 million 25-to-54 viewer average during the comparable night four years ago.
MSNBC, meanwhile, averaged 5.89 million viewers in primetime last night, including 2.66 million adults 25 to 54, its best-ever take with that key demo.
Looking back against its results on election night 2004, MSNBC grew 107% in viewers from 2.84 million and 87% from 1.42 million with the news demo.